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Alexander Payne's Downsizing attempts to squeeze three different films into 135 minutes, but only one of them is good (hint: it's featured in the trailer and dominates the first hour). Not surprisingly, this means that Downsizing starts off well enough -- it images a world where people can voluntarily be shrunk to miniature size as a way to combat climate change due to overpopulation. Our story follows Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), who have recently decided to undergo the procedure: they'll be living like kings in Leisureland, one of many pint-sized communities packed with McMansions, private tennis courts, and other "luxuries" that can be purchased for pennies on the dollar. Help the planet and own the home of your dreams, guilt-free? It's a lifetime commitment and one with obvious drawbacks, yet countless people have taken the plunge already and the Safreneks are up next.
Or at least Paul is. Once he's revived after the procedure, full-sized Audrey calls to say she got cold feet and wants a divorce. It's one of many twists during Downsizing that leads small Paul on a journey of self-discovery to find life's purpose, and one that most viewers won't be willing to take. From meeting his fun-loving neighbor Dušan (Christoph Waltz) to a curious relationship with Vietnamese cleaning woman Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), the path he's on leads far from McMansions and private tennis courts, all the way to the scientist who discovered "downsizing" and helped build the original colony in Norway. Some of Paul's adventures sound interesting on paper and, at times, Downsizing attempts to recapture the focus it maintains so well during the first 40 minutes or so. Yet it can't help but feel like a completely missed opportunity and one that flails around miserably for well over an hour: the narrative focus here is almost completely absent, which makes all that much-needed character development fade deeply into the background.
It's a shame, too: Payne has earned quite a solid reputation for well-crafted movies, the international cast is top-notch, and Downsizing certainly has its heart in the right place. Yet it's afraid to commit to any specific tone once it veers slightly off the rails -- and given the strength of its first 40 minutes, it's obvious the film could have carved out an effective identity as a well-timed and clever satire. Instead, it runs out of ideas almost immediately and devolves into a heavy-handed and preachy mess, completely ignoring the prolonged setup except for a few cheap visual gags that do very little to serve the story. The overall path here is more baffling than organic, and one that feels like an episodic mess of ideas that never completely gels. Come for the premise, stay for the excellent performances (Damon and Waltz do what they can, Hong Chau is a promising newcomer, while Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern absolutely kill it in their scene together)...but be warned that Downsizing is a lukewarm, frustrating 90 minutes preceded by a solid opening.
Paramount's Blu-ray/DVD combo pack obviously serves up a fantastic A/V presentation, but sadly confirms my theory: most movies I end up disliking don't include audio commentaries. I would've loved to hear an honest, candid defense of Downsizing from Payne or even a frank admission of everything that it does completely wrong...but instead, we mostly get a half-dozen or so surface-level featurettes that pretend this ship sails smoothly from start to finish. All told, it's one of the least essential purchases you'll make this year.
Not surprisingly, Paramount has served up a pitch-perfect 1080p transfer (framed at 2.35:1) that, with the right setup, rivals a theatrical experience; an optional 4K edition is available as well. Downsizing's mostly warm and natural color palette looks great no matter the locale; black levels run deep, depth is noticeable, and textures are strong throughout. Digital imperfections (excessive noise reduction, edge enhancement, banding, compression artifacts, etc.) don't seem to be an issue, which helps the CG effects to blend smoothly with practical shots. There are still a few questionable moments, and grain levels can be a bit distracting -- but once the film travels to Norway, its visual presentation feels the most seamless. Overall, it's a largely well-done transfer that fans will appreciate.
Any film blessed with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack usually brings something special to the table -- but while Downsizing seems like an odd candidate for the format, overkill is better than nothing. Dialogue and music don't fight for attention, while several rear channel and low frequency effects help to heighten the different atmospheres. This default track has also been mixed with home theaters in mind -- and also unfolds to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track if your receiver doesn't support Atmos -- with the result being a well-balanced and satisfying experience featuring a few clever touches along the way. French, Portuguese, and Spanish dubs (Dolby Digital 5.1) are also available during the main feature, as well as optional English, SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles.
The Blu-ray's interface is fairly standard with separate options for chapter selection, audio/subtitle setup, and bonus features. This two-disc release (one Blu-ray, one DVD) arrives in a standards dual-hubbed keepcase with poster-themed cover artwork -- which trades in the tagline below for *sigh* "Get Small, Live Large" -- and a matching slipcover. A Digital Copy redemption slip is also inside.
Not much of genuine interest, unfortunately, outside of a few surface-level featurettes about the film. "Working with Alexander (12:23) is an intolerable puff-piece about how great the director is and how there were absolutely no problems with the film, honest. "The Cast" (11:30), meanwhile, talks about securing an international group of actors and their experiences on set. "A Visual Journey" (14:01) and "A Matter of Perspective" (9:06) are the best featurettes of the bunch, as they deal with the unique solutions used to create the film's interesting effects. "That Smile" (6:25), like "Working with Alexander", just praises Matt Damon and can be skipped entirely. Finally, "A Global Concern" (6:38) talks about Downsizing's environmental themes, white guilt, and offers a few eco-friendly life hacks except for the most obvious one. Not surprisingly, the film's extremely misleading trailer is nowhere to be found.
Alexander Payne's Downsizing features a terrific premise supported by a wonderful cast, which makes its ultimate failure even more disappointing. Despite the strong pedigree, this is by no means a great film: it starts strongly, loses all focus within the first hour, wanders around aimlessly, greatly overstays its welcome, and doesn't come close to earning its navel-gazing non-ending. Combine that with truly deceptive marketing --- which extends from its theatrical trailer all the way to Paramount's Blu-ray packaging -- and it's no surprise why Downsizing earning such a large amount of backlash almost immediately after release. Some folks may be able to overlook its obvious flaws, but I couldn't and just don't see a great deal of replay value here. Despite this Blu-ray's outstanding A/V presentation, most of the bonus features are a completely missed opportunity and won't persuade anyone stuck on the fence. Rent It.